Board OKs first round of budget cuts

By: By Chris Berendt -

County commissioners gushed over the first round of anticipated budget cuts, unanimously accepting them in their effort toward implementing an employee pay plan.

“I think it’s quite amazing what people can do when they set their minds to it,” Commissioner Clark Wooten proclaimed, praising county department heads and staff. “People sitting in this room came up with $245,000 in cuts. It’s a rarity to find a government entity that has the wherewithal to do this. This is the kind of thing that excites me. It’s just very moving and enriching to me and I thank you all.”

At Monday’s Sampson Board of Commissioners meeting, County manager Ed Causey presented proposed cuts totaling $247,219.42. If approved, there would be just $100,000 to go toward meeting the initial goal. After some discussion, the board did just that.

“We want to get those as quickly as possible,” the county manager noted about the remaining cuts, “and we’re working on that.”

The pay plan will be implemented over four years at an estimated cost of $3.7 million, including roughly $1.1 million and matching fringes for the 2015-16 budget. The plan further calls for $1,193,391 in real permanent savings over the next four years, necessitating a reduction of $345,497 starting in the 2016-17 budget.

Causey has reiterated many times to board members that he is responsible for showing real cuts to the budget in order to implement the pay plan, a long-discussed compensation measure that can be halted at any time.

“You are under no obligation to go into year 2 of the pay plan, so I do feel some pressure,” he stated. “We are working diligently and I know who’s responsibility it is to make the grade.”

He said it was not his intent to have everyone represented in the first round of cuts, but that everything was being considered. In the first round, the Department of Aging, Recreation Department, EMS, Board of Elections and Library were among those that submitted reductions — and saw them subsequently approved.

“I’m so pleased,” Commissioner Sue Lee said. “I think we’re going to have more cuts than we expected. I loved the ideas they came up with.”

As part of the cuts, the Department of Aging proposed terminating its contract for a temporary part‐time receptionist and share a full-time administrative position currently at the Parks and Recreation Department. The offices are in close proximity and the person will be moved to the lobby area to receive visitors and calls for both departments. The change will be effective Jan. 1, 2016, saving $6,220 for the fiscal year. Thereafter, $12,242 will be saved annually, Department director Lorie Sutton stated.

For the Board of Elections, county employees will be offered the opportunity to serve as clerks on Election Day, which will offset expenses at that department. Averaged over a period of four years, the anticipated savings each of those years would be $7,452.

Sampson County Emergency Management proposed a number of reductions that ranged from cleaning and maintenance to fire departments and rescue modifications.

Because employees in the Emergency Services building work around the clock, the department has the manpower to accomplish the cleaning of its building by its employees rather than a contracted service, which costs about $12,000 annually, Emergency Management director Ronald Bass stated. Cleaning supplies cost about $1,200 annually, and there is a $1,800 cost of waxing floors and cleaning carpets each year, resulting in a net anticipated savings of roughly $9,000 annually, which would be scrapped under the proposal.

Emergency Management also proposed eliminating a stipend of $3,600 to the Salemburg Fire Department as they were previously the only department who had purchased and responded with an aerial platform (ladder) truck. Clinton and Halls now have similar units and do not receive such a stipend.

After 30 years, the Turkey Fire Department Board of Directors have elected to cease fire medic operations because of shortage of manpower and the difficulty of recruiting volunteers. That will eliminate the $5,280 stipend the Turkey FD was budgeted to receive for 2015‐16, more savings.

The county’s worker’s compensation insurance premium is $522,755 for the current year, and that can be lowered by $105,000 to $417,755 by emphasizing safety training and rewriting the county’s safety manual, Finance officials said.

Similarly, getting rid of a copier lease would alleviate a great deal of expenses.Countywide the cost to lease and maintain those machines, which also function as a scanner, printer and fax machine, has grown to $104,063.80. With maintenance costs, that number escalates to $129,398.48. Analysis showed the county spends about 4.6 cents for each copy and print made.

Over a 4-year period, the county could anticipate paying $485,593.92 in lease and maintenance payments to multiple vendors, Finance officer David Clack noted. Under the cost per copy model, only $278,724.74 would be paid over the same period with no change in service. The total savings over a four year period would be $206,869.18.

From 2016‐20, the library will be able to reduce its full‐time staff by three positions by eliminating its reference librarian, outreach librarian and technical services librarian positions through attrition with all having indicated their retirement intentions. Other savings will be realized through more efficient procedures, the reorganization of the staff positions, out‐sourcing of most of the library system’s cataloging, eliminating Gale Courses online,and an increase in book leasing for the Outreach program, director Heather Bonney stated.

Elimination of Gale Courses, a decrease in part‐time salaries equivalent to 995 hours and staff changes, lapsed salaries and benefits will mean actual savings of $50,107.18 in 2016-17 to be accompanied by an additional $31,531.97 in savings in 2017‐18, bringing total savings over the two years to $81,639.15.

“I don’t want to belabor the point, but I could not be more proud of what is going on here,” Wooten remarked. “When you cut, a lot of times you think about what you’re going to lose. When you can cut and not reduce services, that is impressive.”

Causey said he has been blown away by some of the proposals and what has been put on the table to cut, even pulling back a bit for items to be reconsidered before coming to the board. Commissioner Albert Kirby stressed the need for permanent cuts as opposed to “superficial” ones, saying he did not want to see a tax increase considered. Causey assured the proposed cuts were items that would be “gone forever.”

“That’s why I looked at pulling some things back,” the county manager said.

“This is coming from the bottom up,” Wooten said. “These people have become empowered and impassioned for these cuts.”

“I hope you’re right,” Kirby replied with a laugh, “because the rebellion we be from the bottom up.”

Kirby said he trusted in staff that the savings were real and, despite his worries, was behind Causey “100 percent.” Other commissioners were also optimistic about what they called a solid first step.

“This is a first step and I encourage another step,” Wooten said.

Causey said more cuts would likely be up for consideration next month, with the goal of achieving the targeted $345,000 by December.

“We are trying to achieve this with limited adverse impact,” Causey stated. “What we’re doing is going to be progressively more challenging.”

Reach Managing Editor Chris Berendt at 910-249-4616. Follow the paper on twitter @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.

By Chris Berendt


County commissioner Clark Wooten talks about his delight in seeing department heads make reductions in their budgets. commissioner Clark Wooten talks about his delight in seeing department heads make reductions in their budgets.

Reach Managing Editor Chris Berendt at 910-249-4616. Follow the paper on twitter @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.